Friday, February 26, 2010

Place As Touchstone

In this tag I'm asking you to describe a place in your life that is a reference point for your growth and authenticity: a touchstone. New York City is such a place for me.

Wikipedia defines touchstone as a standard: a basis for comparison; a reference point against which other things can be evaluated. Each time I stay in New York, I use it as a gauge, not only of my maturity, but my ability to cope with outside influences and still be at home with myself.

I arrived in New York City as a teen-age runaway 43 years ago. I stayed in Brooklyn with two gay men who were friends of a friend. I kept this from my parents and told them I was living with a girl I had met while working at Grand Canyon. On the right is a dark alley in the neighborhood where I lived. At the end of the alley is a small white sign which reads, "No Standing." I guess once you walked down the alley to see what the sign said, you had to scurry back to the sidewalk....or else. 

My new friends showed me all over Brooklyn Heights. We were in Norman Mailer country, they said. I didn't know who he was. I became enthralled with many erudite things while living with these men. This is where I developed my love of opera. One of the men played LPs all the time and it made me cry, especially Micaela's aria from Carmen.
When my parents said they were coming to visit, I found a new apartment in Manhattan with female roommates through an ad on the bulletin board at church. I was a runaway, but I was a devoted (albeit) conflicted Mormon who wanted to experience something different than Salt Lake City. My parents were against this so I rebelled and left a note on their light switch and flew to New York in the middle of the night. My time in New York in the 60's was exciting and eye-opening. I was too naïve to be frightened.

After less than a year, I moved back to Salt Lake City to pursue my new-found love: Opera. The University of Utah was what I could afford.

I returned to New York City as a young mother in 1973. I had met my husband in Opera Workshop at the University. We moved so he could get his foot in the door of the opera world. As a mother, I was a nervous person this time around in New York. I had given up my dream of becoming a singer myself and chose to support my husband in his dream. My reaction to the city at this point in my life was a result of this decision. I found the city menacing and contradictory. The bright spots in my life were my children and taking advantage of standing room tickets at the Metropolitan Opera. My husband and I took turns watching the kids and walking to the Met, which was just down the street from us.  When I was 8 months pregnant, I stood and marveled at the sound of Pavoratti and Marilyn Horne in Carmen. Awe and ouch.

Little old ladies in the park were always after me for not dressing my children appropriately for the weather. "You should have a hat on that baby," they would say. They were also openly critical when I became pregnant with our 3rd son. New York was difficult. I couldn't afford it. I didn't fit in. I had too many kids and someone a half block away was murdered and cut up into little pieces.

In 1975, we returned home to Salt Lake City to have a better place to raise our family. Years later, after a painful divorce, I wrote this note while on a visit to New York:

Jan. 28, 1988. Walking through Manhattan today just like I did 15 years ago made me weepy. I've been back to New York three or four times since I lived here with my little family, but it's never made me nostalgic or sentimental before. Perhaps it's because the boys live with their father and are essentially gone. In Central Park I just wanted to sit down on a bench and cry. Not from sadness, but because I can embrace all of this now. How much I wanted to escape everything back then. I couldn't see anything for what it was.

Returning to New York City to sit in an actual seat at the Metropolitan Opera.
(all black and white photos mine)

Happy Coincidence - The Latest "Tag"

Open your first photo folder,scroll down to the 10th photo,
post this photo and the story behind it.
Tag 5 people.

I'm not going to tag 5 people. Please follow this prompt if you are so inclined. I would enjoy seeing what you come up with.

My photo was taken last Sunday, February 21st. I didn't cheat. It really is the 10th one in my file. This is Amy and my son, Mark. Amy is gracefully and joyously IN LABOR. Her family has a tradition of standing vigil at the hospital as soon as they hear a family member is in labor. My daughter, Mary Ann and I joined in this tradition. We were at the hospital 6 hours. Mark and Amy were there 17 hours. This was our reward:

Friday, February 19, 2010

For What Remains



I touch things
like the child I was,

all the familiar things
that kept me safe.

Depression salvage -
handled, used, re-used, 
stained, rusted -
tended and brought to the present.

Sacks of memories -
fragmented histories
stacked neatly in liquor boxes -

The apron she was wearing
when she caught me at the bottom
of the basement stairs -

The crystal stemware
that sang with
moistened fingers -

The meaning of things
like her mind.

Walls hold the plot
of our lives;
stand blameless
like change.

I sweep the floor
to clear the effort it took
to place her, replace this -

With a gentler fate.

© 2010 by Kathryn Feigal. All rights reserved. 

Monday, February 8, 2010

The End Of An Era

To leave a home that you've lived in for 55 years must be a hard thing. To watch a mother struggle is almost impossible to describe. I can't say words escape me because they never arrived.

Blogging friend, Leslie talks about the insistent quality of her story-telling. I envy her ability to get it all down - to dish it out in a way her readers can bite into, chew on and digest so that the assimilation is universal.

I don't feel able to do that. Any troubles with my mother I might have wanted to hash out seem irrelevant in the face of what she must be going through. This, coming from the child that ran away from home, the one who as a teen-ager, used to flip her mother the bird. 

All I feel capable of writing about is the positive things that have occurred since my sister and I moved our mother into an assisted living community. These communities, as they like to call them, are not other worldly, they are nether-worldly-with-a dash-of-imposed-cheeriness. But the good news is, it works. The staff plasters smiles on their faces and greets everyone with obsequious glee. It does create a pleasant atmosphere.

Mother was assigned a seat in the dining room. I sat with her. A very attractive 97-year-old from Norway announced that this was her table and she decided who got to sit there. A woman to her side, who appeared to be younger than me and an obvious survivor of a head trauma, explained that a very unpleasant woman used to sit at the table and had made their life miserable. They said they got her kicked out of the home. Mom and I raised eyebrows at each other. By the end of the meal, Mom had managed to get a smile from the Norwegian Ice Queen and had given her hand a squeeze wishing her a pleasant evening. Mom was workin' it.

Being forced to dress for meals and interact with people has lifted Mother out of some of her confusion. On her own, she has decided to act rather than react in this new situation. In typical role reversal mode, I am proud of her.

I took Mother to her old church Sunday. She has not felt well enough to go for months, but I knew the members would make a fuss over her since it was her Birthday. They didn't disappoint. Mother was in such a good mood afterwards, that she actually agreed to pose behind the pulpit for her  daughter and what she calls "that damn camera." Sorry, Mom.

Later, back at 'the home,' some of her friends stopped by to give her gifts and have ice cream and cake. The best gift of all came from the younger woman from her dining table. Mother had admired her lamp and she brought it over and insisted on giving it to her. Whatever has happened to this woman, it has turned her into some kind of angel. 

To all the well-wishers, you can't know how much it meant to me to check in during the week and see your comments, even though I had not posted. Thank you, Leslie, Rachel and Gabi and all the others who seemed to sense there was more to my plant dilemma than artistic musing.